It’s the Story, Not the Ending

Do you know any octogenarians? One of my closest friends is 80, he’s been a private client for eleven years. If you spoke with him you would not feel like he’s in the midst of his “ending” and he’d tell you off if you suggested such a thing. Most days when I leave he says, “Don’t let the bastards get you down,” mostly because he knows I’m going to shake my head and laugh and also because, much to his chagrin, he knows I don’t believe in bastards. I just think some people are having a really tough time with life. He can’t stand the expressions, “No worries,” or “It’s all good,” either. He’s funny and brilliant and one of the most alive people I know. He used to sing totally off-color Irish lullabies to my kids when they were babies. As they’ve gotten older, he sings the songs with the real words not the “sailor” versions. But anyway, I used to think like that. That at eighty, I’d have it all figured out. My story would be long done by then, I’d just be living it out. Now I realize there is no ending, happy or otherwise, not until your final exhale. Until then, it’s all the story. Parts of the story are going to be stunningly painful. Other parts are going to be so amazing they’ll expand your heart and you’ll feel like it’s going to burst right out of your body and there’ll be every shade of everything else in between. The real question isn’t whether you’re going to find that happy ending. The actual question is whether you’re going to be happy as you move through the unfolding story of your life, day to day.

I grew up on the same fairy-tales you did and I’ve seen the same romantic comedies. For a good long while, I bought into all that. I thought if I was somehow perfect and I did everything the way I was supposed to, straight A’s, thin enough, pretty enough, someone would come along and “save me” and I’d live happily ever after. Or something like that. And then this way older man came along, and that wasn’t a happy ending. And the Mirror Guy showed up and that wasn’t happy, either. I’d graduated from a great school and starved myself through twelve years of ballet and there I was with my diploma and my thinness and these relationships that broke my heart and there didn’t seem to be potential for that happy ending on the horizon. I started to get an inkling that it isn’t on the horizon, it isn’t going to happen one day in the future when things calm down or you meet someone or you make X amount of dollars, but I didn’t know that then, not for sure. I’d see families walking down the street and wonder, “How did they do that?” You know, because I was about twenty when I thought this way and had no actual idea of what it would take to make a relationship work. Or a life. I think lots of people reach adulthood without a clue. Without knowing themselves.

It wasn’t until I found yoga and seated meditation that I started to understand happiness was an inner journey and a process of discovery. A willingness to open to reality as it is and to do the work to heal what needs to be healed. To let go of the grip and the false notion of control. If I do everything “right” then I’ll be happy. If I’m a good person things will go my way. The “right” we’re sold is a big fat lie. The real right is what’s right for you. What’s true for you, and no prince or princess is going to show up and tell you. There isn’t going to be this magical kiss on the lips that makes your life fall into place. There isn’t going to be a big enough house or fast enough car. There isn’t going to be a job that solves it, although it goes a long way when you find something to do with your time and your energy that’s fulfilling to you. There’s just you. Looking at yourself in the mirror at the end of the day as you brush your teeth. You either look at yourself with kindness or contempt. The fairy-tales should really be about that. The fire-breathing dragons are inside us and they have nasty little voices that say, “Not good enough.” Those are the ones you face, and you slay them. You take what is real and true for you and you split them down the middle with it. Eventually they leave you alone, or you’re just too full of love to house them anymore or they’re mostly sleeping, but when they wake up once in awhile you don’t have to waste a lot of energy slaying them again, you just give them a look and they cower and go back to sleep because they don’t own you anymore. Something like that. The most essential part of your story is going to happen inside yourself and then there will be external factors and the way you respond to them. Those external factors play a significant role in your story as well, because it’s not a level playing field and sometimes the most devastating things happen to the most incredibly loving people.

I see so many people still searching for that brass ring or that “right” person to complete them. I have an inbox stuffed with emails from people trying to figure out what’s wrong with them, what they’re doing or not doing that’s causing the unhappy result they’re getting with their lives. Why they aren’t getting the breaks even though they’re doing everything “right”. This happens with people on the spiritual path, too. I’m doing my yoga. It’s been ten years. When am I going to be happy? Well, how are you doing your yoga? Are you breathing and focusing and practicing with compassion for yourself? Are you feeding a loving, kind voice? Are you listening deeply and responding honestly? Are you curious about your experience or attached to the outcome? Are you tuning in or zoning out? Because showing up on your mat consistently is great, but it’s not the whole story. Some people show up six days a week, but beat the crap out of themselves or get attached to the poses, or feel good on days when they’re full of energy and feeling open, and bad on days when it’s a struggle.

Happiness is not a destination, it’s a process. It’s an ever-unfolding choice you make. It’s equanimity in the face of life’s ups and downs. A knowingness that this is how it is now, not how it’s always going to be because everything is always in a state of flux. Sometimes you allow yourself to just be heartbroken, to suffer and grieve or to be enraged, and shake your fists at the sky, or dig your hands into the dirt of why. You embrace it all, and as much as possible, you open to the wonder of it all. There’s beauty in everything, even the most devastating losses. The fact that you’ve ever loved so much to grieve so deeply has some beauty in it. Loneliness has some beauty in it; the fact that your tender heart longs to be seen and understood is beautiful. It’s real. Love requires your bravery and your vulnerability and that’s gorgeous. The pain opens us. Generally the deepest growth springs out of the sharpest pain, and wisdom is gained through suffering. Is it human to sometimes wish for less pain, less growth, less suffering and less wisdom? Of course, but we don’t get to choose what happens, we only get to choose how we respond. The more you’re able to surrender to what is and honor the truth in your heart, the more you’ll be able to relax into the unknown of the thing and there’s a lot of peace in that. Wishing you a truthful, inspiring, exciting story, and sending you a lot of love.

So grateful to be traveling with all of you,

Ally Hamilton

If the posts are helpful you can find my books here and my yoga classes and courses here.

Marriage, Divorce, and Little People

Yesterday I posted about lies, deceit and betrayal and as I expected, it stirred up a lot of feeling in people. Today’s post is focused on marriage, divorce, and children because I got a flood of emails from people related to this topic. It seems many people are in relationships that aren’t growing anymore. We could talk about that quite a lot. How is it that our divorce rate is so high? It’s over half of all marriages that fail now and I believe a large part of it is cultural. We’re taught to keep looking for bigger, better, newer, shinier. So much of what we value is external. A lot of the time, we aren’t looking at the gifts right in front of us.

We’re living in a time when everyone is busybusybusy, racing from one place to another and then it’s Monday again. And again and again and again, and wow. A whole year just went by. Three, five, wait. How old am I? This year I’ll take that vacation. Hmm, maybe next year. This weekend I’ll hang out with my family. Oh, wait, I can’t, I have a deadline. We also have a broken system where you have to work your a$$ off to be able to afford health insurance for your family and to keep food in the fridge and a roof over everyone’s heads. It’s not like I don’t get that, but still. A walk after dinner. A dinner without devices on the table. A story before bedtime. Something. A card for your spouse for no reason once in awhile. Date night. A touch on the arm on your way out the door and a moment to really see each other, remember each other. Or it’s going to die.

I dated a guy who was a runner once. Every morning he’d jump out of bed and go for a run. Then he’d come back and jump in the shower and race out the door with barely a goodbye over his shoulder. He’d race the entire day until he collapsed in bed at night. He raced through everything. I’ll leave it at that, but I mean everything. The only time he slowed down is when he’d travel for work. Then he’d call me and want to talk because he’d be lonely in some far-off place. You can’t race through life and prioritize your to-do list and come home and zone out in front of the television and never give the people in your life your full attention and expect a relationship to keep growing. You have to water it. You can’t have the attention span of a flea and think that’s going to cut it. If you don’t see and appreciate what you have, you’re probably going to lose it.

Weddings are easy, marriages are not. You have to choose to marry the person every day. To see them and hear them and cherish them the way other people do, people who are not taking them for granted and who don’t assume they know all there is to know. It’s funny, I’m lucky enough to have some friends I’ve known over twenty years. I don’t ever think I know all there is to know. Yesterday, I was supposed to talk to a girlfriend I’ve known since I was twelve years old and we couldn’t make it happen with her kids, my kids and the time difference. But when we do talk, it’s not going to be static on the line because things have happened since we spoke last week. She’s not the same today as she was seven days ago when we talked about everything, and neither is anyone else. People felt confronted yesterday by what I wrote. People who may be engaging in email flirtations or more. You think I don’t understand? I fully understand, believe me. It’s painful to live in a house with someone who doesn’t see you anymore. I’ve been there more than once. More than twice.

What do you do? You go to the person you built a life with, even if the walls are starting to crumble and you say four words: I am in pain. And with as much kindness as you can, you tell them exactly where you’re at, even if you’re petrified, even if you have children, even if you would rather suffer yourself than bring pain to your family. Because I promise you, if you are in so much pain that you’re resorting to desperate acts with other people, your family is already feeling that. If you have children, on some level they know. They may not understand what they’re feeling, but they are feeling it. They’re on the ship with you. My parents got divorced when I was four and I remember all of it. If the space between you and your spouse is charged or dead or full of anger or lies or heartbreak or utter disappointment, realize that’s the space your children are growing in. Children have no defenses, they aren’t hardened, they feel it all. Maybe your spouse will storm out. Maybe they’ll hold your hand and cry with you, and it’s possible you’ll touch on something ancient between you that hasn’t been stirred in a long time. At least you’ll be communicating honestly.

If you feel like you can’t have the conversation without support, ask to go to couples’ counseling. I’d highly, highly recommend that in any case. If you have children, I think it’s a must, even if you end up talking about how you’re going to end things, but if you can save it, save it. Try with everything you’ve got. Read the book, “The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: A 25 year Landmark Study”. We want to say that children are resilient and what matters most is that they have two happy parents. That’s true, but I can tell you honestly the best thing for your kids is keeping the family together if there’s any way possible to do that and be happy. I say that as someone who wasn’t able to do that.

Sometimes the best thing for everyone is for mom and dad to live in two different places. I just think people go a little too far with this kids just need mom and dad to be happy. I hear about schedules that are convenient for divorced parents, but so insane for the kids. Here one night, there the other, back and forth so much it would make anyone’s head spin. I grew up three nights here, four nights there, and even that was really hard. There’s a line. If you have to split because staying in your marriage requires the crushing of your spirit and your children’s too, then yes, you need to end it, but put the kids first. If you have a co-parent who won’t do that, that is so, so hard, but then your job is to rise to that occasion the best you can and be a rock for your children. A safe space (and to get support with that if you need it). Being a single parent is not at all easy. Depending on the other parent, it can be very, very painful, or it can be manageable, but as with everything in life, you cannot give your power away to someone else, or make everything someone else’s fault. Your ex is your ex for a reason. If there’s no support, understanding, respect or consideration coming from them, that is rough, but then your job is to figure out how you’re going to deal with that with grace and strength. You’re going to have to figure out who and what you can lean on to get through so your children do not pay the price, or pay as little as possible.

There are three kinds of adults I meet. Those whose parents got divorced, those who wish their parents had gotten divorced, and those lucky people who grew up with two parents who were able to pull it off. You know what? Everything you go through will open you and teach you something if you let it. As much as we may think we do, or we may want to, we never know what someone else’s path is supposed to look like, even our own children’s. Yes, your job is to put them first. Always. And to protect them as much as possible, and to nurture them and hold them and share with them anything and everything you’ve got. Your job is also to teach them what it looks like to be a happy, kind person. Isn’t that what we all really want for our children? We want them to be happy, right? To live life with their hearts open. To be able to recognize what’s true for them, and to live guided by their own inner yes. How will they be able to do that if you don’t show them what it looks like? It’s not impossible, but they’ll have to work a lot harder to figure it out without an example.

No matter what happens or how you feel, your ex will always be your child’s other parent, the other most important person in their world. Do you know people who don’t have good relationships with their moms or their dads? It’s a heartache that never goes away, and it wreaks havoc on all their interpersonal relationships unless they work on it a lot. You don’t want that for your children. (If we’re talking about a situation where there’s abuse and you are dealing with concerns about your child’s physical and emotional well-being, then we are in a different territory altogether, and then your job is to do everything you can to protect your child). Once in a parking lot I saw this little girl, probably about three years old, crying in her stroller and saying that she missed her daddy. Her mom looked really stressed out and yelled at her, “It’s a mommy day, you’ll see your dad tomorrow!!!” I couldn’t help it. I went over to her and said, “She just misses her dad, it’s totally normal. She loves you. Why don’t you take a time out, I’ll stay right here with her for a few minutes.” And her mom started crying and sat down in the drivers’ seat of her car, and I squatted down right outside the door and had the most amazing conversation with that little person. When her mom came out of her car she handed her cellphone to her daughter so she could talk to her dad.

The best thing you can do for your children is support a healthy, nurturing relationship with their other parent, even if their other parent is a rat-bastard, no-good @#$SB(&^$%. Okay? I understand that might be your reality, but even then. Your children will figure that out for themselves if that’s the case, your job is to help them get the best out of their other parent while they’re little. To feel loved and supported by that person, even if s/he has a limited capacity to love anyone. Also try to remember you have your experience with your ex, and your children will have theirs. Putting your kids in the position where they feel they have to choose sides is brutal for them and not loving. If you can work out a way to be friends with your ex, that is so ideal, but I know that’s not always possible.

What is possible is that you never, ever say a negative word about your ex to your child. Ever. I know exes who launch an intentional campaign to turn their children against their other parent, and I want to say if that is something you are doing, I can absolutely guarantee you will pay for it dearly at some point. It may not happen until your children are eighteen, nineteen, twenty, but as soon as they’re old enough to look back and think about what was said and done and by whom, you will pay for it. That is not putting your child’s best interests at heart, that is allowing your rage, bitterness and disappointment to poison you and to bleed into your children. They will never thank you for that, and if you cost them their relationship with their other parent and steal from them years they could have had love and support that were denied to them because of you, that is going to have a very damaging effect on your relationship with them. Right as you enter your golden years, right at the time when you hope those relationships will blossom and you and your grown children can develop a deeper bond based on a greater, more mature understanding of what it means to be a human being on planet earth, right then…that is when they’re going to understand what you took from them, and right then is when you will pay. Do not let that happen to you or to them. If you are enraged, talk to a therapist, your best friend, your mother or anyone else who can lend a sympathetic ear, but do it when your children are not within earshot. And do your best in the face of everything to work it out so that your children have as much stability as humanly possible.

Sending you love, as I always am.

Ally Hamilton

If the posts are helpful, you can find my books here and my yoga classes and courses here.

If It’s Making You Miserable, That’s a “No”

relationshipstatusYesterday I got a phone call from one of my close girlfriends in New York. She’s divorced with a young daughter and recently re-entered the dating scene. It’s been six years since she’s dated and times have changed. I’ve experienced some of this myself over the last year, as those of you who follow the blog may recall. There’s all this online dating, okcupid and match and let’s hook up (I may have made that last one up), and texting and tweeting and instagram and seriously, isn’t dating complicated enough without having to distill your thoughts into 140 characters or update your relationship status so everyone knows you’re getting some? Or you were and now you’re not? Or you may be but aren’t sure?

Anyway, she called me because she went on a date with this guy and as far as she could tell it was a home run. They went out to eat and talked for hours, walked through SoHo holding hands and ended the night with a hot make-out session on her couch. He talked about how she’d have to meet different friends of his, and things they’d do together this summer. She felt totally confident they’d be going out again. He texted her when he got home and said he hoped she had sweet dreams and knew he would be. Said he’d call her the next day to make a plan, and that he couldn’t wait to see her again. And then, crickets. It’s been almost two weeks since their date and no contact from the dude. Of course it’s especially crushing because it was her first foray out of the gate, and because she sent him an email a week later “checking in” and heard nothing back. So she wanted to replay the whole night with me to see if she was missing anything because she feels rejected and her feelings are hurt. I got the whole play-by-play in such minute detail, it was as though I was there on the date. She wondered if he’d seen the picture of her ex that she hadn’t put away yet. If it scared the guy off that her ex still works for her dad. If maybe he thought she was conflicted and that she might reunite with her daughter’s father. If she had talked too much about the demise of her marriage even though he expressly asked, and had shared the story of his own divorce. If she had moved too fast by making out with him for so long, or not fast enough because she sent him home without letting him scramble her eggs. You get the drift.

I listened to all of this and when she was done I said I thought it had nothing to do with her. I know her. She’s funny and smart and kind and a total head-turner. She’s confident and sexy, and there’s just no way she’s not hearing from this guy because there’s anything lacking in her. I said all of that, of course, but also just listened because it doesn’t matter if I know all that, it only really matters if she does. I don’t know what’s going on with the guy. Maybe there’s someone else in the picture. Maybe he’s great at first dates. Maybe he got scared. Maybe he likes head games. Who knows? But she’s suffering and watching him update his statuses with pithy remarks and tweet about basketball games and post pictures with friends out to lunch. Of course I told her I thought she should stop “following” him everywhere and get back to the business of being awesome.

It’s incredibly hard to walk away from situations we don’t understand. Especially when it seems that a real connection happened, but we’re not always going to get answers. Some things will be left undone, unsaid, unknown. It won’t all be wrapped up in neat little packages of digestible information. Some people are in incredible pain, in lonely desperation with no idea how to move forward. Some people make a mess of things because that’s where they happen to be when you cross paths with them. Try not to expend too much energy in an effort to figure it all out. Just trust that it won’t be a mystery when it’s right. You won’t be wondering and suffering and having crazy conversations with your friends dissecting every sentence you uttered, searching for the mistake. The hole inside you you must have exposed. The dumb thing you said, or the fact that you snorted when you laughed. You won’t second-guess yourself. When it’s right, you’ll just be happy. (Assuming you were happy already.) Tired, but happy.

Wishing that for you, and so much more,

Ally Hamilton

The Person You Decide to Be

I’ve had two weddings, but only one marriage. My first wedding was to a man who kept the antique mirror I (painstakingly) had restored when I was nineteen years old, the one that belonged to my grandma whom I adored and lost long before I met him, and who also kept the vintage diamond necklace that belonged to my great-aunt, which I’ll never be able to pass along to my daughter. I call him Mirror Guy. I didn’t love him and I can’t tell you what I was doing with him because it feels like another lifetime and because I was in a fog fueled by outrageously painful migraines, percocet and a stubborn desire to cling to stories that didn’t serve me, to blame my parents and my childhood for my brokenness, and a general sense that I had no clue what I was doing here. I was coming off of some of the darkest times of my life and I was very young and totally lost. I’d been in that damaging victim mentality for too many years, blaming other people for my poor choices and behavior, numbing out, denying, running. I wasn’t an awful person or anything, I’ve always been kind, I was just a bit of a mess.

You know the syndrome, right? I am this way because this happened, and then that happened, and then this other thing happened, so when you leave the room, I think you’re leaving for good and that’s why I’m freaking out. As if that makes sense. This thing that should have happened did not, so I have fear that no one will love me and nothing good will happen, so I’m just going to sleepwalk, okay? Because I don’t know how to do the ‘awake, I’m-going-to-take-responsibility-for-the-way-my-life-unfolds-thing yet, so if you want to marry me, sure. Sounds good.’ Or something like that.

Of course I thought I loved him or I wouldn’t have worn the Cinderella tulle dress and gotten myself to the beach club on time. But you can’t love if you’re sleeping. You can stick your arms out in the darkness and hope you run into something good, but you probably won’t. If you’re in darkness, you’re most likely going to fall in a ditch and break something, like your heart or your ability to keep sleeping. Something will give, that’s for sure. Nor can you see that the person you’re about to marry is incapable of telling the truth in any form about anything or of being honorable or kind, or of loving you in any capacity at all. I should have known because he told me he was separated when we started dating, but actually he wasn’t and it took two years to sort it out. Somehow I became fixated on that and never realized I didn’t love him and it would have been just fine if he’d stayed married to that other woman, thanks very much. I should have known because my therapist at the time asked me what we did together that was fun, or what it was that I liked about being with him and I literally could not think of a single thing. I should have known because too many of the things he said to me did not make sense and often came back to bite him in the arse later. It’s not like there weren’t signs. I begged for signs. Do you realize if you’re asking for signs that’s a sign? I didn’t.

I have to share about the signs because it’s comical. I’m going to the store to try on wedding dresses with my mom weeks before the wedding and she has to wait in the car because I’m throwing up. I’m throwing up. Nauseated at the thought of buying a dress to marry the man who turned out to be Mirror Guy. I can’t get the song, “You Don’t Know Me” out of my head for weeks. The morning of the wedding it is sunny and gorgeous and I think, “At least that’s good,” because we are getting married on a deck overlooking the water in front of 250 people, most of whom I’ve never met. At 4pm the sky turns black. I’m not exaggerating. Black, and then the sky opens and there’s rain like I have never experienced in my life, not before, not since, not anywhere, even in the jungle of Costa Rica. Torrential rain so thick it sounded like someone was an inch over the roof of the minivan with a thousand power-hoses. Giant frogs dropping from the sky would not have surprised me. Oh, did you catch the part about a minivan? My wedding party left in the limo I was supposed to be in because the makeup artist wanted to do me last so my makeup was fresh, but she ran so late they had to take off, so I went to the beach club in a minivan with my parents and my little brother and his best friend.

More signs: Because there was a weather alert with a red stripe across the bottom of every television telling everyone to get home and stay indoors, the traffic on the highway from the hotel to the beach club was nuts. Like a parking lot, people racing out of the city to make it to their homes. This is in New York, mind you, where this kind of weather simply does not happen. So my step-dad drove on the shoulder of the highway for six miles. So pretty much, on my way to getting married to the very wrongest person, hundreds of people gave me the finger. How many signs do you need before you turn the minivan around? That’s like a punchline, isn’t it?

When I got to the beach club my mom and I raced to the bridal room, and my best friend and bridesmaids shoved me into my dress and someone handed me a glass of champagne because I said I thought I might pass out, and of course champagne is the answer when you feel faint and are about to make one of the worst decisions of your life. So I went down the aisle like a wind-up doll, done up like a princess, vacant eyes. Worse than that. Deer-in-the-headlight eyes. As if I hadn’t said yes to all of it. As if it were just happening to me. When the justice of the peace announced we were man and wife, there was a crack of thunder and lightning so loud you can hear it on the wedding video and everyone laughed nervously and I thought,  “Well. You can’t ask for more signs than that.”

I say he didn’t love me and I know I didn’t love him, even though I believed I did and I believed he did in my sleepwalking state. But he didn’t want a wife, he wanted a mother. Someone to make dinner and read his screenplays and rewrite all the dialogue because people don’t speak like that. Who speaks like that?

More signs:

Him: Hey, why don’t you leave your dog at the kennel this weekend, because actually, I don’t like dogs.

Him: I need to go shoot this commercial, so drop everything and come, okay? Even though it’s in Canada and you’d rather stay home since I’ll be shooting all day and sitting around a set isn’t all that fun, and I don’t want you off exploring by yourself because you’re too young to be off on your own like that in a foreign country.

Me: Um. Canada? I think I can get around because I speak English.

More signs: It was never consummated. I’m not saying we hadn’t had sex before the wedding. I’m saying there wasn’t any after, and there wasn’t much before because he preferred porn to an actual human. But I didn’t know that then, so I was busy thinking there must be something wrong with me and feeling rejected all the time. Anyway, I had the thing annulled. I should say, I woke up several weeks after this wedding and had it annulled. And Mirror Guy is actually the perfect name, because that’s what happened. I looked in the mirror and thought, How? How did I land myself in this mess? How did I not stop, at any of those burning red flags and turn myself around?

Maybe it was compounded by the fact that the much older guy I dated had come before Mirror Guy and by this point I was just wrecked, but I got the message. I got it hard and ugly and in the face. There was no one to blame but myself, because my mom didn’t like Mirror Guy and said as much, and my dad and step-dad didn’t think much of him, either. All my fingers pointed back at myself and I thought, I’d really better turn this sh&t around, now, or my life is going to be bleak and dark and very painful. No light. I’d been doing yoga for a couple of years at this point and that’s the light I used to find my way out of a nightmare of my own making, without the mirror or necklace, but you know what? Such a small price to pay. Because in the years after that I started planting the seeds that sprouted into the life I have today. I look at my life now and I’m blown away. Two amazing, healthy, happy kids. A man who is everything I ever could have hoped for and so, so much more. Friends who know how to show up, a few of whom have been there through everything with me. A community of yogis locally and around the globe because the internet is pretty amazing. And all of you.

You get to decide who you’re going to be, you really do. I’m not saying everyone has equal opportunities or that the playing field is level. I’m saying you have the power to decide how you’re going to do your life, and what you decide makes all the difference in the world. You get to decide what to dwell on, what to emphasize, what to cling to. You get to decide whether to forgive other people and forgive yourself and move forward. You get to decide whether the past is going to determine your future, or be something you grow from. You get to decide whether you’re going to blame and moan or get busy working. I hope you decide to be your best self. To own your story. To refuse to let your past dictate your future. To get your hands filthy with your pain so it doesn’t control your life, because there’s no need for that. Your life can be so beautiful. Even with heartache and tragedy, there’s still so much beauty to be found if you open to it. Wishing that for you, if it hasn’t happened already.

Sending a ton of love,

Ally Hamilton

If the posts are helpful you can find my books here and my yoga classes and courses here.

Your Capacity for Change

Endings are hard, especially endings between people. I’ve never had an easy time with them; I must have missed the day when they taught “clean break.” Whether it’s a relationship, a job, or a way of being that needs to come to an end, loss is not easy. Soul-searching is important if you’re thinking about making big changes especially when other people will be affected, but there are certain times it’s just clear that change is coming and needed. A friendship is not what you thought it was, your boss is abusive, your landlord goes through your underwear drawer when you aren’t home — time for a change! Everything living grows, blossoms, peaks, and dies and something else is birthed. Resisting that reality is futile, you may as well head to the ocean and try to hold back the waves. This doesn’t mean all relationships die, it means we must be willing to shift and grow together and also accept that sometimes we’ll grow apart.

Growing up I had a friend I adored, I’ll call her Mary. We met in kindergarten, and were in school together all the way through our junior year of high school, mostly because I would not hear of going to any school where she wouldn’t be. I was at her house so many afternoons and weekends, her mom walked around in her underwear in front of me like I was one of her own. Before the start of third grade, my beloved best friend told me she didn’t want one best friend anymore. Now that we were almost eight she planned on having lots of friends. I went home and got in bed and cried my eyes out for hours. At some point my mom called Mary and asked what had happened and told her I was inconsolable. Mary said I misunderstood, which I wanted to believe but knew was just a thing she was saying to my mom to not be in trouble. I was sick to my stomach the first day of school, but Mary sat next to me and we played at recess, and I went to her house after school like always. It went on that way, but she did start spending time with another girl who wasn’t very nice to me, although we are now in contact and Mary and I aren’t. Life is so funny, and can you believe this stuff starts so early? This one likes me, but this one doesn’t. I love her, but she loves someone else.

When she was in preschool, my daughter announced one night that she didn’t want to go to school when a certain three year old boy was there because he never wanted to play with her. I asked her how she felt when he didn’t want to play and she said it hurt her feelings. I told her I remembered feeling that way when I was little and that grown-ups feel that way sometimes, too. I told her it did hurt, but if he didn’t realize how totally great it was to hang out with her, he was just missing out on all the fun he could be having and that was sad for him. I told her to play with the kids who love to play with her. Problem solved for a three year old, but this sh&t never ends. I have a bursting inbox of emails to prove it.

Depending on your personality, your life experiences and the context, dealing with change and loss can be very challenging. The end of a job you’ve had for years, even if it isn’t inspiring you and hasn’t been for far too long, is still a loss. It’s a loss of your comfort zone, of the familiar. If it’s imposed from the outside, of course it can also involve the loss of security, income, and if you have it wrapped up together with your identity, self-esteem. Even if you quit, if you’re in the driver’s seat, if you’ve decided it’s time to go, it’s still the loss of something old and the beginning of something new. The end of a relationship that isn’t growing anymore is still the loss of what was, what had been. The end of self-destructive patterns that are causing your suffering is still the loss of the familiar coping mechanisms and ways of denying. Now what?

Life is so much about transitions. If everything is in a state of flux, how do you open to the changing reality? Most of what stops us from embracing change is fear. We all want to be able to count on something. This is my house. Out on my lawn is my tree (it’s not your tree). These are my shoes. This is what I do on Mondays. Here’s where I put my mat in my yoga class. This is my partner. I know this person. (Do you know them, or are you assuming you know everything there is to know? Because your partner is changing just like you, growing, opening, thinking about things in different ways, evolving as life brings new situations and events, some wanted, others not.) The only thing you can really count on is that everything is changing all the time and that fighting that truth will cause you to suffer. Open to it all, invite it all in. Let it wash over you. Take action when you need to. Don’t expect to blossom if you’ve planted yourself in soil that has been stripped of all its nutrients, that hasn’t been watered for far too long. Nothing inspiring will grow out of that. Mourn when you need to. Be enraged, lonely or confused. Let your heart break. That way you can also open to all the gifts. All the wonder and joy and surprise and love. All the beauty and growth and expansion of your heart. Accept the endings so you can also embrace the beginnings. Sending you so much love,

Ally Hamilton

If the posts are helpful you can find my books here and my yoga classes and courses here.

Grab Your Inner Tube

onlyinastormSometimes life brings a huge storm our way. We lose someone we cannot imagine living without. We’re fired from a job. Our spouse walks out or has an affair. Our child is in pain. Other times we choose the storm, we walk into it head-on knowing there’s a need to leave the familiar shore and head into unchartered waters.

When I moved to Los Angeles in 2001, I really didn’t know anyone out here. I moved with a guy who also taught yoga and liked cheese a little too much and when it all fell apart I ended up three thousand miles away from home with a few people I called friends, whom I was really just getting to know. And, of course, I had my dog. The ex had a serious road rage problem so for the six months we’d been out here, I’d tried to figure out some kind of reasonable solution. We had one car and would often leave for our own Ashtanga practice at 6am and head together to all the classes we were teaching the rest of the day. If I drove, he screamed at me to go faster, to take a different route, to cut this or that person off. If I took a right instead of a left he went ballistic. He became this insane person in the car, instead of the hilarious and kind-hearted person I knew, and it was jolting, because it would happen right after our yoga practice, or after a peaceful hike, or really, anytime we went anywhere.

When he drove it was generally a 90-miles per hour blur, involving the “traffic fingers” of many other drivers, blaring horns and screeching stops. Neither scenario was appealing or safe, but I truly feared we’d have an accident if I drove while he raged, so he drove and I would hope we’d get wherever we were going without a problem. Of course I spoke with him about it and he always promised to calm down, but never managed to pull it off. Then he was gone and I had no idea where I lived. I had to start from the beginning and remind myself, that way leads to the mountains, and that way to the beach. I went on a dating detox because I was alarmed I’d missed the cheese problem and some other stuff. I’ll explain the cheese thing in another post, lest you think I actually broke up with someone who liked Gouda too much. I say that as a friend of said ex. He still calls me every Thanksgiving because of a funny and crazy holiday we shared that involved his sister, my dog, and a pair of pajamas with bunnies on them. We check in from time to time. Grab a bite when I’m in New York. But when it ended, I just felt bereft and confused, like the rug had been pulled out from under me by my own hand because I’d ignored my intuition. I felt pulled to retreat and regroup, and thus began what we call in yoga my “Dark Night of the Soul”.

It’s a storm you choose because your way of being in the world hasn’t been working out too well. Friendships, relationships and jobs that don’t feel authentic are left behind, but it happens in an emotional hailstorm. When you start to change your inner wiring, the system is going to revolt. The tendencies, patterns and coping mechanisms that have been keeping all that raw emotion at bay are going to rise up. They’re going to beckon. If you have the strength and determination not to repeat a pattern you recognize gets you nowhere, not to numb out or run or deny, you’ll likely find yourself in a state of depression, which is generally confusing when you know you’re moving in a healthy direction. ‘”Shouldn’t I be feeling better?” you’ll think in despair, “I’m doing everything right.”

That’s the storm, and if you want to come back to yourself, that’s where you have to head. In many ways it would have been easier for me to move back to NYC where my family and friends were, or to throw myself into another relationship. Instead I meditated and practiced yoga and taught my classes and hiked with my dog and wept a lot. I felt lonely and allowed myself to open to that. I felt scared and heartbroken and sometimes I wondered why I didn’t just make it easier for myself, but somewhere I knew I needed the pain. I needed to finally lean into it and swim through it so it wouldn’t own me anymore. So I could come back to myself. It is a storm. Sometimes you get pulled under and are thrashed into the rocks and you can’t see the surface, but if you want to really know yourself, you have to embrace everything. You have to accept and integrate all parts of yourself. It’s not easy work, but when the sun emerges and you take a deep breath and know you’re home, the kind of home that’s with you wherever you may go, it’s so worth it.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Throw Some Luggage Overboard!

losingsomeofthebaggageOne of my oldest girlfriends, I’ll call her Sue, is incredibly self-aware when it comes to identifying her “stuff” and owning it when she doesn’t show up the way she’d like. She started going to therapy when she was thirteen years old due to her parents’ ugly divorce, and as she got older, for her own relationship issues. She had watched her parents tear each other down directly and indirectly, through her. Her mom said horrendous things about her dad and her father said awful things about her mom. When they each remarried (which they both did, more than once), the bitterness was quadrupled.

Her stepmothers made snide remarks about her mother, her mother couldn’t stand her father’s new wife, either time. Her father thought her first step-dad was not very bright, and her step-mom said he laughed like a woman. I witnessed a lot of this myself, as did all our friends, at sleepovers and afternoons at her mom’s or dad’s house, and once, sadly, during Sue’s sweet sixteen. Her dad got drunk and took the mic to toast Sue, but it somehow deteriorated into a tirade about Sue’s mom. Not so sweet, and Sue ended up in the bathroom, with a bottle of champagne that she downed and then threw up all night. And so it went.

In high school Sue struggled with an eating disorder and I watched her turn herself inside out trying to be perfect, to control the little bit she could. She was smart as a whip, but sometimes she’d play dumb because she thought guys liked that. Her family has a lot of money, and Sue would often buy lunch for a whole group of us. Or more accurately, she’d pay for lunch with her American Express and her dad would pick up the tab because her parents believed throwing money at the situation would somehow make it okay. We went to college together as well, and as we grew up, a pattern emerged for Sue that was no surprise to any of us who’d watched her struggle over the years. She kept picking guys who ended up hurting her. Not the typical stories of ways men and women can misunderstand each other, or not show up all the way, but deep, “I just realized he’s been stealing money from me for months” kind of pain. The relationships were usually high-drama, and there were many times Sue showed up at my house unexpectedly, eyes puffy and red, sobbing in the middle of the night.

Sue started drinking heavily, first a couple of nights a week and then most nights. Eventually she cleaned that up. If you were to talk to Sue, you’d know within minutes you were speaking to an awake, aware person. She’s intelligent and funny and kind. She can tell you exactly why she’s done the things she’s done. She can give you the whole road-map to explain all her choices and all her behavior. But so far, it hasn’t helped her resist the pull of acting out these dramas. Sue wants a happy ending, but she keeps trying to go back and carve one out of her past as if she could rewrite history. As if she could change her parents into people who were mature enough and loving enough to put her first, to love her well.

Time and again, Sue ends up crashing into the brick wall she keeps choosing, even though the crashing part sucks. A few years ago, I really worried for her. She’d hit such a low point I wasn’t sure she was going to be okay. I went back to New York to teach and I saw Sue for the first time in many months. She was gaunt, and her nails were bitten down to the quick. Her eyes were dull and so was her spirit. Through it all, Sue has always been a force. So I was really disturbed to see this lifeless person who looked like Sue sitting before me. She’d just had another painful breakup and I could see this time she was taking it particularly hard. She started to relay all the details of what had happened. What she’d done. What he’d done. What she said, and why she felt the way she did. I listened as I had so many times before and when she was done, I looked at her and said, “Sue, I love you. You’re an incredible person with such a beautiful heart, but you have to put the baggage down now, or it’s going to destroy you. There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re as lovable as a person gets. Your parents did the best they could but their best kind of sucked. You have to stop letting this own you.” And Sue started sobbing, right there at the restaurant. People looked over at us and Sue apologized to me for making a scene. I went to her side of the table and hugged her, and told her to go ahead a make a scene. Because sometimes you work your sh&t out on a rainy Tuesday afternoon at a Thai restaurant downtown. Sometimes you’re just sitting there sobbing with chopsticks in your hand deciding it is finally enough.

Carrying your old, painful stories around with you wherever you go is exhausting, back-breaking work. At a certain point, it simply drains the life out of you. Everybody has pain. Everybody. Some people have more than others and some are better equipped to deal with the everything that life brings. The heartache and disappointment. The trauma and abuse. The neglect and loneliness. The confusion and shame. We’ve all experienced at least one of these, some people have seen all of that and so much more. I once met a girl at a workshop I taught, who told me she had to stay angry at her father so he’d pay for what he’d done to her. I asked her how that was making him pay, since she never spoke to him or saw him. I said I was pretty sure she was the one paying. Your past will shape you and inform the way you think about yourself and the world. If that way isn’t loving, you’re going to have to unlearn some stuff, which is, of course, harder than learning it the right way the first time. If you think people suck, for example, you’re going to have to unlearn that. If you think you suck, you’re going to have to unlearn that first. Have some compassion for yourself. Be kind. In some way or another, we’ve all been Sue, collapsed on the bathroom floor, throwing up our pain all night long. If you want to travel back to your past in a productive way, go back there and give yourself a hug. Re-parent yourself if you need to, but put some of the heavy stuff down. It does not have to own you. The destination that really counts is your journey to inner peace. You’re going to have to throw some bags overboard to get there.

Wishing you strength and love,

Ally Hamilton

If the posts are helpful you can find my books here and my yoga classes and courses here.